Rays Trying to Figure Out Loaded Lineup

The Rays greatly improved their offense this off-season, but now manager Joe Maddon needs to decide during Spring Training how he will fill out his lineup card every day. Also inside: Evan Longoria dodges a bullet after being hit in the wrist in an intra-squad game, Matt Moore is expected to return soon after a lower abdominal strain and B.J. Upton says the team has no ill-will for Manny Ramirez.


Rays trying to figure out loaded lineup, by the numbers

The Rays will have only a few spots up for grabs during their month of exhibition games: starting shortstop, between Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez, who split the spot last year; the other catcher's spot, a three-way derby between Jose Lobaton, Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez to share time with Jose Molina; and the final spot in the bullpen.

But one of the primary topics of discussion and debate will be in setting up the batting order for their improved offense.

With the addition of left-handed sluggers Carlos Pena and Luke Scott, plus the strong finish by B.J. Upton in the No. 2 spot, the Rays have some interesting decisions, with about the only sure thing being Desmond Jennings in the leadoff spot.

Manager Joe Maddon called it "a little funky" and executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "It's not incredibly intuitive."

The most interesting question involves the No. 2 spot, where the Rays have to decide whether to stray from their usual preference of alternating left- and right-handed hitters by sticking with Upton, switch-hitting Ben Zobrist or Scott, who has a high on-base percentage.

Upton batted .356 with 14 RBI and a 1.106 OPS in 23 September games in the second slot.

Also of some debate is how best to deploy lefties Pena, Scott and Matt Joyce, who seem likely to slot into the 4-7 spots. Third baseman Evan Longoria prefers the third spot, and the catcher and shortstop will be at the bottom of the order.

Third Baseman Evan Longoria, seen here in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays last season, survived a scare after being hit in the wrist by teammate Matt Bush earlier this week in an intra-squad game.


Longoria can't get out of way of pitch but dodges a bullet

--3B Evan Longoria is slated to make his exhibition debut on March 5 after sustaining a bruised right hand when he was hit by Matt Bush's pitch in a Thursday intrasquad game. The discoloration and pain had the Rays and Longoria worried, but X-rays showed nothing was broken. "Once that worry's out of your head, you just let the swelling go down and go from there," Longoria said.

--LHP Matt Moore's chances to make the rotation at the start of the season won't be impacted by the time he missed due to a mild lower abdominal strain, manager Joe Maddon said. Moore felt discomfort during a Feb. 24 bullpen session and was limited to playing catch for more than a week, with a return to the mound expected March 4 or 5.

--OF Matt Joyce's biggest goal for this season is obvious. "The biggest thing is being consistent, finding that consistency to go out there every week, every month, every day and have consistent at-bats and play consistent baseball," Joyce said. "And when you do that, you're able to help your team a lot."

--CF B.J. Upton said the Rays don't hold anything against Manny Ramirez, who left them and "retired" last season rather than serve a drug suspension and now has returned with Oakland. "He's a great guy and I'm glad he came back," Upton said. "Sometimes there's stuff that goes on outside of baseball that needs to be handled first. If he had to walk away at that time, if he felt like that's what he needed to do, he's played this game long enough that if he felt he had to go, then he had to go. It says a lot about a guy to go through when he went through and deal with all the criticism, and still be able to look people in the eye and say, 'Yes I was wrong but, you know what, I'm going to come back.'"

--DH Luke Scott was scheduled to miss the first five or six exhibitions to give him extra time to recover from right shoulder surgery, as the Rays are more focused on having him ready for the April 6 season opener. Scott said he has felt soreness after swinging but overall is ahead of schedule.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- Major leaguers besides 3B Evan Longoria to have 100 home runs and 400 RBI in their first four seasons. The others were Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols, Orlando Cepeda, Ralph Kiner, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Johnson, Hal Trosky, Earl Averill and Chuck Klein.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no on-and-off switch. I think there's a dimmer switch sometimes, but never an on-and-off switch for us." -- Manager Joe Maddon, on his preference for intense play in spring training.

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